Northern Ballet: Casanova – Milton Keynes Theatre

Music: Kerry Muzzey

Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

At Milton Keynes this week, Northern Ballet stages yet another wonderfully exotic piece in the form of Casanova, which has rightly received much praise from critics and public alike. Casanova’s life story is a complicated one; he was so much more than the dilettante womaniser for which he has become known. Who knew, for example, that he was a talented mathematician and alchemist?

The eponymous role is taken on by Giuliano Contadino, who exhibits strength, athleticism and sensuality conveying sexual prowess, naivety, arrogance and love. An incredible range with just one body. He owns the stage, occupying it as he does for a large part of the ballet.

Tindall’s first full-length ballet for the company is a richly detailed story, avoiding the clichés, and taking us from Giacomo Casanova’s beginnings in Venice through to his later life as a writer in Versailles. Casanova is forced to give up his first role as a church cleric after seduction by the delectable, red-headed Savorgnan sisters. Having joined Bragadin’s orchestra as a violinist he links up with cellist, Manon Balletti, danced exquisitely by Ayami Miyata. Casanova is rescued by Bragadin when he and Manon are set upon by robbers. Bragadin then attempts to seduce him but suffers a stroke. Casanova saves Bragadin’s life, with the help of the forbidden book given to him by Father Balbi and, in gratitude, Bragadin makes Casanova his heir. Javier Torres brings us Senator Bragadin and does so with style and a suitable grandness of gestures. Superb use of facial expressions creates his status as much as his feelings.

What must be one of the most beautiful and sexual scenes ever seen in a ballet is played out between Casanova and M.M (Ailen Ramos Bettancourt) in a ‘staged’ seduction. How the latter manages to contort as she does during their union is almost beyond belief. Act 1 ends with Casanova’s imprisonment by the Inquisition because of the aforesaid forbidden book. Christopher Oram’s set design depicts the church, the ball scene with the orchestra and various apartments so simply yet effectively using three huge, brass columns with a distressed antique-effect. Alastair West’s lighting reflecting on these is what truly creates the atmosphere so that the set becomes a character in itself.

In Act 2 we discover Casanova in Paris where, at the gambling tables, he gives dramatic accounts of his escape thus impressing one Madame de Pompadour, a role performed with stately elegance and panache by Victoria Sibson. Mme Pompadour takes the young Casanova to Versailles as her protégé where he lives a free, ‘lordly’ life with much debauchery. Christopher Oram’s set for Versailles is nothing short of marvelous. The aforementioned columns have been turned around to produce mirrored glass edifices which then open out and – hey presto! –  we are in a wondrous palace. While writing his book Casanova encounters Henriette (the very lyrical dancer that is Hannah Bateman) and he falls very much in love with her. She tells him of her terrible life with her abusive husband and so Casanova shelters her. Their relationship tos and fros until Henriette rejects Casanova once and for all and he, desolate, dives into the abyss. At this point, the first single page drops down and he is reminded of his amazing life, as peopled memories float across the stage, and of his love of writing. He knows he must live on.

Tindall and Kelly’s scenario, using Casanova’s memoirs and the Kelly biography, really brings out the fullness of this life. The choreography is captivating with its dynamic, sensual and teasing movements. The characters really come to life. The sexual and political aspects are cleverly demonstrated, the former no better than when Casanova is part of the ménage a trois with the Savorgnan sisters in Act 1.

Kerry Muzzey’s moving and quasi-filmic score embellishes the story thus giving us a total experience visually and emotionally.

This is an utterly mesmerizing piece, not to be missed.

Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Emma Kauldhar

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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